Nerdy Social Action by Sarah Mulhern Gross


Be sure to check out my post on The Nerdy Book Club today! I’m thrilled to share what I am doing in my classroom and how students can be inspired by literature to change the world.

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

I have a confession to make:


I don’t love all of the novels I am required to teach as part of the curriculum.


Phew!  It feels good to get that off my chest! I understand the need for a canon and I’m lucky because I have a lot of flexibility in my district, but I just don’t feel passionately about all of the books my students and I read together.  I’m making slow and steady progress in changing some of the books we read, but I also recognize that there are ways to connect with stories beyond loving or disliking a book.  And that while I don’t love all of the books, I have students who do connect with and enjoy those same books.


At the same time, I know that passion is important.  If I am not passionate about the book I am reading with my…

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Slice of Life #23- #WeNeedDiverseBooks Local Book Drive!

Over the next few weeks my National Honor Society students will be running a book drive for Bridge of Books [501(c)3], which is a local grassroots organization whose mission “is to provide an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and at-risk children throughout New Jersey in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.” Our focus will be on collecting new and like-new YA books that feature diverse characters because‪ #‎WeNeedDiverseBooks‬ and the teen population is historically under-served in most of the organization’s book drives.

Bridge of Books is a fantastic organization that serves children and schools all over New Jersey.  They stock classroom libraries, which is a cause near and dear to my heart.  They also distribute books through more than 100 agencies across NJ, through the NJ Youth Corp, directly to children through schools and community outreach events, and to adult correctional facilities (to support parent/child reading programs for incarcerated parents). The organization works in cities and rural areas, even providing book delivery in most cases, with the goal of ensuring that every child owns and has access to books of their own.

Interested in contributing but not able to get to HTHS? We have a public wish list on Amazon and books can be shipped right to the school. (I know, I know…Amazon. But we don’t have a local indie and I’m hoping to save people shipping fees because it’s for charity!)

Slice of Life #22- Tired. So Tired.

Why aren’t naps a normal routine for adults?


I am not young enough for seventeen hour days anymore.

I am definitely not able to handle seventeen hour days without stopping for food.

When you spend all day walking and you don’t get home until 11:30pm and you eat dinner at 11:30pm and then you wake up at 8am you are very tired

Headache tired.

Heavy eyes tired.

Hard to read a book tired.

Hard to write a slice of life tired.

Where did my weekend go?

Can I get an extra day?


Why is spring break so far away?

Far, far away.

Too far away.

Tonight I will dream of sleeping in, eating a real breakfast, and not bowing to the demands of an alarm clock.

But in order to do that, I need to go to bed and fall asleep.

Good night!

Slice of Life #1- It’s Raining Birds!

I’ve been feeding the neighborhood birds since the New Year started and it’s been fabulous. My e-bird tells me I’ve identified 25 different species at my feeders! (I love citizen science!)

But today I had my coolest sighting.

I was watching my feeders for a few minutes when something suddenly dropped from the sky into the snow, landing with a thump. At first I thought it was one of resident hawks landing with an early dinner. Then I saw what looked like a mohawk on its head.

I was on the phone at the time and I threw the phone down, yelling to my mother “I have to call you back! A weird bird just fell out of the sky!”

The bird was clearly a duck, but not a duck that belonged in my yard. I belong to a few birding groups on Facebook and knew that there had been a spate of sea birds getting lost inland recently. The snow and frozen waterways make it hard to find food. I also knew some of those ducks and birds can’t take off unless they are in water. So I went outside to check on the duck ( after snapping a few photos from the window).

Thankfully, the duck flew off when I got within about 25 feet. I ran back in and uploaded my photos to Facebook. As I waited I used my Merlin bird app to try and identify the species but seeing as the duck was very out of place in my yard it didn’t work. Thank goodness for birding groups on Facebook!


Meet the common merganser duck. She’s female and was definitely lost. Even though she flew off I did walk the block to make sure she was safe. No sign of her so I’m hoping she made it to the creek down the street; it eventually feeds into the lake in the county park across the street.

Definitely an awesome yard bird but a bit sad, too. It turns out lots of sea birds and ducks are literally falling out of the sky in the midAtlantic. Their rivers and lakes are frozen and they are looking for food. So keep your eyes open and look a little closer at the world around you. The birds that surround us might need help this winter.



Aim Higher™: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English


This is a phenomenal blog post about choice in upper-level English courses in secondary school. As someone who Sparknoted her way though many English classes while reading hundreds of books under my desk, I say YES!

Originally posted on Three Teachers Talk:

I’m going to just say this right up front:  I hope to challenge some thinking.

I asked some friends for feedback on this post and got opposing advice. I let it rest for half a week. I prayed about it. And then today I read this post by Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure she wrote it in a response to a comment on this post by Amanda Palmer, Secondary Language Arts Coordinator in Katy, TX. I’ve written about my own students and their experiences as they’ve grown as readers before at Nerdy Book Club and on this blog; and I’ve presented on how I advocate for choice in AP English at conferences.

I hope I can be a voice of reason and an inspiration for the good of all students. So, if…

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Morris Awards Finalists- An interview with Jessie Ann Foley

When the Morris Award Finalists were named I was very excited.  You see, this is one of my favorite awards given each year.  The Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author and the short list is always full of exciting titles.  This year was no exception.  In fact, this year’s list was made up entirely of books I had not read yet!

The book that caught my eye immediately was The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley. The Irish setting and the 90s music focus were unlike anything else I’ve read and I knew I had to get my hands on it. And the good news is that it totally lived up to my hopes and wishes!

coverThe Carnival at Bray is well-crafted, beautifully written, and will transport you out of your world and into Maggie’s world.  One of the best parts of the novel is the way Jessie Ann Foley captures Ireland.  Her descriptions, poetic at times, make you feel as if you are standing in the fog with Maggie.  I’ve visited Ireland twice in the last few years and Jessie Ann Foley’s words immediately brought me back.  I could smell the sea in the air, feel the damp fog on my skin, and hear the hum of the earth below me.  Anyone who has been to Ireland knows it’s unlike anywhere else on earth and it’s not easy to capture that in words.  Jessie Ann Foley does, though,

Maggie and her family move to Ireland when her mother and her new husband return to his hometown of Bray, Ireland.  This is a coming-of-age story that has major crossover appeal.  It’s a story of friendship, love, and what it’s like to be a teenager.  Maggie is trying to navigate a new life in a new country, a new family dynamic, and a new set of friends.  Her voice rings true and will grab the attention of teens and adults alike.  Jessie Ann Foley is a voice to watch!  Ireland is magical and so is The Carnival at Bray.

I’m thrilled that Jessie Ann Foley agreed to an interview today because I was dying to know more about her writing process.  She’s a high school English teacher, a debut author, and a Morris Award Finalist!

Hi jesse!  Welcome to thereadingzone and thanks for agreeing to this interview! Reading your book I was immediately transported back to Ireland.  I’ve been there twice and I even got engaged in Dublin!  What made you pick Ireland for the setting?

Thank you! I love Dublin! As far as my choice of setting: The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I wrote after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. But then, I guess she would never have met Eoin.

I’ve been to Ireland several times, but that alone was not enough experience to allow me to write this book. My husband, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help to me. I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue—Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind—my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

Haha, that’s awesome!  The other part of the setting that I loved was the music that pulsed through the background of evey scene.  Were/are you a Kurt Cobain fan or did you find your way to him while writing?   Did you write to a specific soundtrack?

One of my favorite parts about writing is how the story can surprise you: you think it’s going to be about one thing, but then you start to discover it’s about something else. I didn’t know that my novel was going to be about music when I started writing it. But as Uncle Kevin developed into an important character, the musical angle grew with him. I had so much fun going back and listening to all my 90’s music–some of those albums I hadn’t listened to for years. I listened to a lot of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana, I listened many times to the live album of the Rome concert that is portrayed in the book. It all definitely brought me back–the music of your youth seems to have that power. I barely remember my first kiss. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard Pearl Jam.

We clearly have a lot in common. :)  I feel like all of my memories are set to music, so I totally understand.

Congratulations on being a Morris Award finalist!  I am so impressed that you wrote such an amazing book while being a full-time English teacher.  As I’m sitting here looking at the pile of grading I have to do I can’t imagine how you did it.  What is your writing schedule like?

Oh God, do I ever sympathize with that Sisyphean paper pile.I don’t think anyone truly understands the grading situation of a high school English teacher except other high school English teachers. My writing schedule has changed after the publication of The Carnival at Bray because I had my first baby shortly after we finished the edits (talk about a non-negotiable deadline!). Now I just write whenever I possibly can. When I was teaching full-time, pre-baby, it took me about a year to write the book. I worked every day when I got home from school, usually until my husband got home from work. On days off or school breaks, I wrote as much as I could, unless, of course, I had papers to grade :)

That leads me to my next questions. Have your students read your book?  Or are you a secret celebrity? :)

Well, I’m currently out on maternity leave, but my school’s book club is reading the book right now! Some of my former students have read the book, and it was really cool to hear from them about it. Last year, I showed my class the three potential covers of the novel, just to get their input. Their favorite cover was the one that my publisher ended up choosing, so that was really fun!

I can imagine!  What an exciting time for you and your students!  Thanks again for agreeing to this interview.  I know I will be waiting with bated breath on the day the award is announced. And just for fun, one last question. What is your favorite food to snack on while you are writing?

Those sugar cookies that have like an inch of colored frosted on the top, washed down with an ice cold Diet Coke. I’m a health nut, clearly.

Thank you to Jessie Ann Foley for writing an incredible book and agreeing to today’s interview!  Be sure to check out the rest of the Morris Award Finalists blog tour this week!  You can see the schedule on the Cinco Puntos Press blog.

Tuck Everlasting….continued


In honor of the 40th anniversary of Tuck Everlasting, one of my all-time favorite books, here is a blast from the past post. Back in 2007 I was teaching 6th grade and Tuck was the first novel I read with my students.

Originally posted on The Reading Zone:

In class, we have been doing a close reading of “Tuck Everlasting” for the last few days.  We re-read the Prologue and Chapter 1, annotating when necessary.  It is so amazing to hear my students say, “Wow!  I didn’t even realize that circle had meaning the first time I read it!”  I think they are starting to understand the need to sometimes re-read parts of a book, especially when you want to clarify certain points or respond to the book in writing.  This is a skill they will need to hone as they move through the middle school and high school and one they aren’t explicitly taught at any grade level.  I am having so much fun with it!

Today, we read an excerpt from “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt” from Horn Book in 2000.  The interview is wonderful and Babbitt shares a lot of great…

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